August/September 2009 Living Inside Out Susie Magill
As athletes and coaches, we understand the meaning of discipline. Our lives are filled with early morning workouts and late nights in the gym. We sacrifice whatever it takes to reach our goals. We know that if we work harder than our opponents, we have a better chance of winning.
Commitment and discipline are necessary for athletic success, but what happens when it manifests into a performance-driven mentality that permeates every aspect of our lives? What happens when it spills over into our faith? We amass a checklist of spiritual circuits to accomplish each week: read our Bibles, pray, attend church, go to Huddle meetings. As long as we continue completing the criteria we've established, we think we are accomplishing our goals as Christians. We are "winning" for Christ ... Aren't we?
Here's a question: If our "doing" is enough to live a victorious Christian life, why don't our surroundings change? Why aren't more nonbelievers compelled by our lifestyles? Why isn't the sports world being revolutionized by our dedication to Christ?
THE INSIDE OUT JOURNEY
|Christ has already made the ultimate sacrifice for us to be able to live Inside Out, and there is nothing we can do to gain or lose that gift. We can simply receive it and then live in its power. Let the words of Chip Ingram drive that home.|
"There is a Being who made you and loves you," Ingram said. "He won't just affirm you when you are doing well, like people do. It isn't like success in sports or school or grades that depend on you. This is about understanding that, before you step on the field, you are deeply loved and greatly valued. You are precious in His sight, and you can live that out not having to go through life attempting to gain it back. That is the Inside Out journey."
The answer is simple: because when we work to perform as Christians, we're doing it backward. We are making an effort to have our lives reflect Christ, instead of allowing Him to display His reflection through us.
This summer's FCA Camp theme challenged us with Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God."
That verse holds a fundamental key to living a victorious life in Christ: changing our game from the "Inside Out."
Diving into the full chapter of Romans 12, we see a clear picture of God's desire for the life of a Christian. The Apostle Paul details exactly what an authentic follower of Christ looks like from the outside — one who truly "walks the walk," and, more importantly, aligns his or her spirit with that of Christ.
The first step in living out that lifestyle, though, may be the most difficult. It involves starting on the inside and surrendering completely to God: offering our bodies as "living sacrifices" (v. 1) and giving Christ full reign in our lives. We don't just give God 50 percent and try to manage the other half on our own. Instead, we let go and subject our lives to God's command.
Why is this step so important? Because it is only through surrendering that we are able to avoid a dualistic lifestyle. Our public and private lives will only align when our spiritual lives mature and are, thus, reflected in our physical lives.
Think about how difficult it is for us to live on the outside what we aren't on the inside. It is a tormented way of life and creates stress and misery for our souls. But all of that can be released when we submit to our Maker — the one who created us to desire a relationship with Him. And until we surrender to Him as Lord, that desire will never be met.
Surrendering, however, requires an intentional act of obedience. Our flesh (our own sinful nature) is strong and balks at the idea of giving up control. It tries to convince us that we have done a good job of leading our own lives and that the need for God's lordship isn't necessary. If we refer back to Scripture, though, we see that God's plan is designed in such a way that surrender always precedes true success.
For example, drawing from our biblical forefathers, we see that Abraham had to offer up Isaac, Ruth yielded her personal life to serve Naomi, the disciples left their careers and families to follow Christ, and, ultimately, Jesus emphasized the need for us all to die to ourselves when He said, "I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop" (John 12:24).
It all adds up to one conclusion: In order to "produce" for Christ, we have to allow Him to be in complete control, even if that means giving up what we think is good and replacing it with what is godly.
"It isn't just about surviving and getting by; it's about thriving," said FCA Senior Vice President Dan Britton, who helped create the Inside Out theme and curriculum. "What is on the inside is going to help you not cave into the status quo. Yeah, you might be a Christian and go to Heaven when you die, but are you winning every day for Christ and living an abundant life with the fruit of the Spirit? When you surrender, you become the kind of Christian who shapes the world around you."
Once we have willingly surrendered, we are able to grow deeper with Christ. Our fruit (the results of our lives) will change because our spirit changes. Our identity will be fully rooted in the fact that we are dearly loved children of God.
"Knowing who you are in Christ results in a total life transformation," Britton said. "Through this, coaches and athletes experience what it means to be a transformer, not a conformer. Someone who doesn't just go with the flow."
"Our goal isn't to 'win' spiritually; Christ has already done that. We win because we are already in victory." – FCA's Dan Britton
Being immersed in a culture that idolizes and projects qualities contradictory to that of Christ makes maintaining our transformation a daily battle. As Romans 12:2 emphasizes, we must constantly filter what holds our focus in order to avoid conformity. And, in order to discern what lines up with God's "good, pleasing, and perfect will," we must know what Scripture says about the "things of this world" (i.e. temptations, distractions, excessive material desires, lusts, etc.).
Chip Ingram, founder of Living on the Edge Ministries and author of several Romans 12 study series including those for FCA*, experienced the life-transforming power of the Word of God after his first FCA Camp experience in 1972.
"It was really strange," he said. "After FCA Camp I started reading the Bible when I had never opened a Bible before. About two weeks later, I noticed that I didn't cuss anymore. I had tried to quit a dozen times and never could. I didn't realize that, by reading Scripture, I was renewing my mind. There was an internal desire that began to change when I filled myself up with God's Word."
According to Ingram, external change isn't always automatic, even when the inward transformation has occurred.
"If we continue to take in a steady diet of media, friendships and other things that pull us away from God, our lives won't change," he said. "You are in a battle, and it is not easy. But, if you think about it, it wasn't easy for you to make first team or to clear 6'9" in the high jump, either. Accomplishing anything of great value is never easy, but the reward is awesome."
Similar to any battle situation, preparation is key to spiritual victory. We can't confront the temptations of this world with just a dash of Jesus here and there. We must study Scripture regularly — Romans 12 is particularly helpful — and educate ourselves through godly teachings and fellowship.
"Our minds can play tricks on us when we are exposed to so many conforming elements," Britton said. "When we just drop in a bit of church and a little bit of FCA and a few minutes of devotions, we can't fully combat the world."
The life of Jesus should serve as our ultimate example. In the Gospels, we read several instances of Christ's Scripture memorization. This helped Him when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4). He didn't have to go look up verses to defend Himself; He quoted the truth right there in the enemy's face and claimed His victory.
This kind of victory is available to us, too. We can claim victory in His name. As athletes and coaches, we don't have to be defined by the scoreboard or by our on-field performances. Our "win" comes from our relationship with Christ and His victory over death. Because of the cross, we can have a victorious life.
"Our real losses come when we aren't lined up with God," Britton said. "Our goal isn't to 'win' spiritually; Christ has already done that. We win because we are already in victory. Like Chip always says, we fight from victory, not for it."
Many Christians become transformed but never reach their full potential to influence the lives of others because they have yet to identify their personal giftedness. God specifically hardwired each of us to function best in certain situations. He longs to place us in those environments where we can flourish and radiate His glory, but it is up to us to discover, investigate and develop those gifts.
"Everyone has spiritual gifts," Britton said. "Some are leaders; some have the gifts of exhortation and encouragement; some are great at giving generously; and so on. What we want is for athletes and coaches to identify those skills and develop them for God — not resting on what the world tells them they are good at, but on what Scripture says and how God designed them."
This is where Romans 12:3-8 comes in with a charge to Christians to use their talents to participate in and bless the Body of Christ (the community of believers). It would be an incredible waste if an athlete had the ability to run a 4.2-40 but didn't realize it until the end of his athletic career. That speed would have reshaped his entire career, but, because he was ignorant of his gift, he never used it correctly.
"We don't want kids living below the radar when it comes to their gifts," Britton said. "Living Inside Out means discovering these gifts and developing them into something really significant. For example, we want kids to realize that if God has wired their hearts to explode when they serve, then they have the gift of helping others. We want their gifts to be used for something greater than just athletics."
Still, when we begin to grow in our understanding of an Inside-Out life, our journey isn't guaranteed to be a smooth ride. The enemy is waiting to attack those who are truly representing Christ and discredit their witness.
"As you grow, it will get worse before it gets better," Ingram said. "When you are doing what God wants you to do, it might seem like literally all Hell is breaking loose, but realize that you are making real progress, and that is what matters. God is not going to waste it. He will reward you."
"Accomplishing anything of great value is never easy, but the reward is awesome." – Chip Ingram
The last verse in Romans 12 states: "Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." No matter what the opposition, we should continue to fight and fix our eyes on Christ and His calling on our lives. It is only through His goodness and love, which we represent in our lives every day, that we are able to conquer our enemy. And when we choose to set that victorious example for others, we will see our environments change for the better.
"In athletics, living Inside Out redefines our competition," Britton said. "As a conduit of Christ, it is through competition that, not only do we get better, but we also help our opponents become better and glorify God. Our goal should be that, because of our competition, the opposing coach or player has improved his or her skills and gotten a taste of who God is. That is what will revolutionize the world of sports."
Simply stated, this revolution starts with the transformation of our individual hearts — one athlete, one coach at a time. It's not one that will begin when we all achieve physical or spiritual perfection. It isn't something that will happen when we learn how best to "perform" for God. It will only happen when we surrender to Him as Lord and allow His transforming power to make us new.
It's time to ask yourself what you're waiting for. Stop living a lukewarm spiritual life and step into the abundant life that Christ promised in John 10:10. Say "yes" to Him today and let Him transform you from the Inside Out.
*Want to get started living Inside Out? Check out FCA's new r12 Coach discipleship series, coming this fall, and r12 Athlete, due out in 2010. Visit fca.org for more information.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.